Many parents think they have plenty of time to get everything done, but the truth is that the 18 month time frame I am advocating flies by. Before you know it, the application is due. With that in mind, let's review the reasons for my 18 month time frame for your school search.
1. You need time to visit the schools.
Visiting schools is time consuming. It is not enough to visit the schools virtually, although if you live abroad, that might be the only viable way of visiting schools. You must experience the school. You need to use your own eyes and ears to help you decide whether your child will be happy there for the next three years. Possibly four if he stays for a PG year. You wouldn't buy a piece of real estate without seeing it. Same thing with choosing a boarding school. Visit it. Experience it.
2. You need time to complete the applications process.
You will need about 4-5 man hours to complete the applications process for each school. You have a Parent's Statement to complete. You also need to request official transcripts and obtain teacher recommendations. Then there is registering your child for the SSAT or ISEE examination. It all takes time.
3. It's a good idea to plan visits around other travel plans if possible.
Starting your school search process early allows you to coordinate your travel plans with other events on your schedule. For example, if you plan travelling to attend a wedding in June, it makes great sense to arrange a visit to any schools on your list which might be in the area. Perhaps your job will take you to an area with a couple of schools you feel are worth a visit. You can always check them out, and if they meet your requirements, you can schedule a formal visit with your child for later on.
The advantage of starting the search process well in advance is that you shouldn't find yourself in full panic mode trying to get everything done at the last minute.
4. Starting early gives you time to make any course corrections you find necessary.
One of the realities of the modern school search process is that most parents think that they have all the answers they need just by doing some research on the Internet. When I recommend that they use a consultant, they bristle at both the expense and the suggestion that perhaps they don't know what they are doing. I would put it to you very plainly, that unless you have family who work in or attend a particular boarding school, you really cannot know what the school's admission standards are.
But starting early will give you time to make the inevitable course corrections once you realize that you are in over your head and need expert guidance. Put another way, many parents assume that their child will get into a highly competitive school. After all, her grades are excellent. She has played viola since she was three and she is a champion rider. Unfortunately, there are other considerations, including a large applicant pool for a limited number of places.
5. Starting early allows your child to become used to the idea of his going away to school.
You know your child. So, perhaps this is not an issue in your home. But many children can be uncomfortable with the idea of leaving the home and surroundings and routine they have grown accustomed to. Don't overwhelm him with a hard sell approach. Gently expose him to the advantages one at a time over a period of weeks and even months. Before long you will overhear him telling his friends that it was his idea to go away to school. Once he owns the process, you become the facilitator and ensure that all happens on schedule.
Good luck in your search for the right boarding school for your child!